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Swine flu facts

Is your school going completely nuts about the H1N1 (swine) flu yet? No? Just wait…

OK, it’s true that my son’s school has not yet broke out in swine-flu hives, but my daughter’s homeschool program does seem to have the rumblings of a controversy, so I thought I’d write about it and hopefully point a few people in the direction of trustworthy information before the rumor mill gets crazy.

Here’s the scoop: we thought we had a family with H1N1. That family went into isolation, and kids who had been with the family the day before the virus broke out skipped a gathering just to be sure, and all seemed to be taken care of with great seriousness and proper precautions, but then…

Fact #1: You can’t actually find out within any reasonable time if you have H1N1. The notoriously faulty test the family had been given at Dominican said positive. The very reliable test done at Stanford, which takes up to a week for results, said negative. Not just for H1N1, mind you, but for flu at all. An entire family went into seclusion over the common cold.

That should be well enough. The family is back. But then we hear by e-mail that another homeschool program is spreading a rumor that swine flu is running rampant through our community. Or something like that. Don’t quote me: I heard it second-hand. But it’s like that game of “telephone”…

Fact #2: The people to believe are the medical professionals. Your friend may be well-meaning in telling you something, but don’t freak out over it, OK? For really good information about the flu in Santa Cruz, visit the SC Health Agency or talk to your doctor (MD).

A lot of people are getting really freaked out about swine flu because it’s more dangerous than standard flu for children. The dangerous part is true — it’s the “freaked out” part that’s not good. Instead of getting freaked out, parents need to educate themselves.

Fact #3: Our yearly flu is dangerous, too. You might not have noticed this, but read my article at for details. There are links there to very reliable flu information.

Fact #4: Flu vaccinations are safe and effective. They are given to bazzilions of people worldwide every year. Whether or not you choose to get them is up to you, of course, but you might want to consider getting them for your children this year, especially if they have health problems.

Fact #5: It is true that this flu is new and thus the vaccine is “untested.” But it won’t hurt your child. It’s the same old type of vaccine people have been getting for the usual flu. The difference is that we don’t have antibodies to this new H1N1 variety, so we might need more than one dose to give us immunity. That’s the part that’s “untested” about it.

So you’d think we’d all breathe a sigh of relief now that we know that the family in our program didn’t have H1N1, but of course, people are still freaked out. New things are scary. But there are some very easy things you can do to take care of your family.

Fact #6: Flu is spread through bodily fluids touching your mouth or nose. Make sure that kids are educated to sneeze and cough into their sleeves and wash regularly. If you keep your hands clean at all times, and your kids’ hands, you can reduce your risk substantially. Case in point: one of the kids in the family with the common cold goes rather overboard with hand-washing. She didn’t get sick. She was living with four other sick people, and she’s fine.

Fact #7: People can spread the flu virus before they become symptomatic, so fact #6 is the most important thing to remember in protecting your family.

Fact #8: This, I think, is the most important thing to remember for the benefit of your school culture: giving someone a virus is the one bad thing you can do to someone and not feel bad about. Viruses want to be passed around, that’s what they live for. If your child is not showing symptoms (fever, aches, cough, sore throat, chills), send him to school. If he comes down with the flu the next day, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Fact #9: So-called “stomach flu” (which is not a flu virus at all) is usually viral as well, and highly contagious. If you’ve got it, stay home.

Fact #10: Only go to the doctor if there’s a problem! Medical offices are going to be swamped with sick, scared families, so if it’s just a little fever and sniffles, stay home, eat some chicken soup, and rent a good video.

Keep healthy, keep safe, and above all, stay calm. Let’s all have a happy, healthy, sneezy season.

Posted in Education, Health.

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